Jump to content
Powered by

The genome as glue

Many engineers who need to work with structured materials with small pores most likely dream of a glue that not only holds the tiny particles together, but also automatically brings them into contact at the correct distance from each other. Scientists under the leadership of Prof. Clemens Richert and Prof. Stefan Bräse at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have now developed a “bioglue” using a process that is summarised in the journal “ChemBioChem”.

Prof. Clemens Richert (left) and Prof. Stefan Bräse (right) use a DNA synthesiser to produce a “bioglue” to build novel materials. © Gabi Zachmann

To construct three-dimensional grids with pores in the nanometre range (1 nanometre = 1 millionth millimetre), the researchers attach extremely short single-stranded DNA to a star-shaped molecule. Just like in living organisms, two complementary single DNA strands hybridise and create a double strand. In each central molecule, the "adhesive" DNA ends are arranged like the corners of a tetrahedron, thus enabling them to pair with four other molecules, which then creates a grid structure with completely new properties.


Structure of an ”elementary cell” with central molecule and DNA double strands as calculated using a computer. This structure leads to a solid porous material. © CFN

Porous materials play an important role in technology and medicine, for example as catalysts, storage media and structure-lending components. "For the first time ever we have been able to show that short DNA segments can be combined to an endless number of structures," said Richert, describing the structure that was developed at the KIT Centre of Functional Nanostructures (CFN) as a result of the cooperation between the research groups led by Prof. Bräse (chemistry), Wenzel (physics) and Puchta (biology). DNA fragments consisting of no more than two nucleotides (thymine, guanine, cytosine, adenine) were sufficient to form scaffolds in aqueous environments. This material forms nanoparticles when it cools.

Extremely short DNA double strands have the advantage that a relatively small amount of activation energy is required in order to break up faulty structures. "This enables dynamic assembly and disassembly," said Richert, who recently moved to the University of Stuttgart where he will continue the project with his colleagues in Karlsruhe. "A big advantage is that purely synthetic material leads to very big grids."

Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) 

The Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) is the result of a merger between the Karlsruhe Research Centre in the Helmholtz Society and the University of Karlsruhe. The KIT marks the establishment of an institution of excellent international research and teaching in the natural sciences and engineering. With around 8000 employees and an annual budget of approximately 700 million euros, the KIT focuses on the research triangle of research, education and innovation. The KIT is a leading European energy research centre and has a high global profile in the nanosciences. The KIT sets new standards in education and the promotion of young scientists, attracting top-class researchers from around the world. In addition, the KIT is a leading innovation partner for industry.

Two Base Pair Duplexes Suffice to Build a Novel Material. M. Meng et al., ChemBioChem 2009, 10, 1335-1339.

Further information:
DFG - Centre for Functional
Nanostructyres (CFN)
Dr. Gerd König
Wolfgang-Gaede-Str. 1a
76131 Karlsruhe
Tel.: +49 721 608-3409
Fax: +49 721 608-8496
E-mail: gerd.koenig(at)cfn.uni-karlsruhe.de
Website address: https://www.gesundheitsindustrie-bw.de/en/article/press-release/the-genome-as-glue